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Riding the wave of digital disruption

The challenges and rewards of meeting consumer expectations
Riding the wave of digital disruption

Digital disruption has by now well and truly hit the pharmaceutical industry, but while some are still fighting for breath, others are learning to ride the wave. And the key to thriving in this brave new world lies with the changing needs of the healthcare professional.

Pharma has increasingly come to recognise healthcare professionals as consumers, and - as is the case for all industries - the crucial role they play in the rise and fall of businesses. But along with this realisation, comes the growing awareness that the majority of doctors now identify as millennials, the digitally savvy demographic that expects instant results, and pharma must engage with these customers to stay successful.

“Healthcare professionals are expecting availability, variety and usage of channels,” says Jan van den Burg, vice president of commercial strategy, Europe at Veeva. They want pharma to engage with them on a more immediate and in-depth level than ever before, accepting pharma's data-gathering efforts as long as they result in better interaction. Consequently, over three-quarters of European firms are due to initiate a new data quality programme within the next two years, according to Veeva's annual European customer data survey.

However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to reaching these European HCPs.

Europe's data landscape
Speaking at the annual Veeva European Commercial Summit held in Madrid this November, Boehringer Ingelheim's global lead for sales force effectiveness, Philippe Houben, told PME that navigating existing cultural frameworks to satisfactorily meet millennial HCPs' expectations is an exacting task for his teams - with the influx of data only adding to the load.

“In the north of Europe, the access to the physician differs to in the south,” Houben explains. “You need to ask the physician's consent to visit in Northern Europe rather than just going to visit, as you would do in countries where access is easier.

“One reason for this could be that as a pharma industry we went to see them too often,” he allows. “They said: 'Stop! We want to manage the frequency of our interactions with you.'”

Pharma has now learnt from this quantity over quality approach, he says, adding: “It is much more challenging to ask: 'What is the adherence of the physician to my message?'”

But with customer-facing roles in Northern Europe also tending to be group-based compared to countries like France, Italy and Spain where sales reps' interactions with HCPs are on a more one-to-one basis, this presents a rather imbalanced view.

“The data we are collecting from different countries, due to their different models, is always slightly different. When you want to use the gathered information to learn more about your customers, first you need to know exactly what is in the data,” Houben says.

“So when a sales rep is presenting to a group, they have to work out what the message is in accordance with who is present at that time. Was Doctor A present from the beginning of the presentation or did he only arrive at the end when a specific message was being delivered?”

Data alone is not, then, a gift-wrapped solution to navigating the rules, regulations and cultural frameworks of European pharma to meet consumer expectations, but instead shows the complexity of the region's variables in greater relief.

“The way you need to adapt the data to make it comparable is one of the challenges,” says Houben, and it is one that the industry is only just beginning to understand.

Driving better interaction
AstraZeneca Italy's Marco Gorini agrees: “For a market like us in Italy, which is quite scattered with people and pathways varying from north to south, it's not easy to have a picture that is settled,” he told PME.

But while using data to create an overview at the national level is important for his team of medical science liaisons (MSLs), “it's really about getting to their single HCPs and finding the value there,” Gorini says.

“Compared to 10 years ago, information is booming. [But] it's not just about dissemination; it's about the customer's view and getting insight from them.”

He plans to train his MSL team on how to get the best out of the data - “you need to take it and make it actionable, otherwise it is useless” - with emphasis on knowing the customer.

Specifically, Gorini's team in Italy is working to use this customer data to tailor interactions with key opinion leaders to follow their clinical interests.

“Discussing real-time clinical data with HCPs is really shifting the conversation - it's growing interactions in therapeutic areas where you are discussing very recently-published work.

“HCPs see the worth of having an exchange with consultants from pharmaceutical companies that is up-to-date and well-prepared.”

But data, he says, is a two-way street: “It's not only MSLs going in with data - and this is the big shift in the MSL role - but a double-way interaction can be achieved.

“HCPs can give you comments and a clinical view that is worthwhile for the company to think about in future actions - you can invest this insight into your pipeline and adjust your communication of data accordingly.

“So while it is fast and more difficult,” he says, “getting these clinical insights has been incredibly valuable for us.”

Data is not a gift-wrapped solution to navigating the rules, regulations and cultural frameworks of European pharma

A two-way street
Data-driven communication is being increasingly recognised as a powerful tool for generating and implementing previously unattainable clinical expertise by both pharma and HCPs. But the demand for digital health has the potential to benefit pharma as well as the HCP beyond this R&D-focused approach, says GlaxoSmithKline's vice president and CRM Futures global business lead Marcel De Jong.

“The expectations society has of pharma companies is different now,” he explains. “People appreciate the role we play in bringing medicines to society, but obviously they do not appreciate some of the commercial practices.”

GSK, of course, has found itself at the sharp end of criticism over certain commercial practices, which led the firm to change its incentive model for sales reps and cease to pay for HCPs' promotional activities at the beginning of 2016. But this shift in expectation goes wider than such incidences to potentially infect the commercial-R&D compact.

De Jong says: “We need to build trust with society if we want to be successful in the future.”

“[But] what is the alternative?” he asks, noting that a further challenge is provided by physicians' changing needs.

“It's a much younger generation, much more dynamic, much more used to having loads of content,” De Jong says.“This generation grew up with the internet, so they want information whenever and however. So we said: 'We should be accelerating the way we provide information'.”

GSK seized this opportunity, introducing multichannel initiatives, portals and webinars to tap into the digital consumer mindset and provide the diverse service HCPs have come to expect.

But crucially, De Jong told PME, his firm recognised that “the need for education will always be there”.

Like Gorini, De Jong understands that investing in medical science liaisons - experts whose employment status is deliberately transparent - is key to gaining valuable insights. However, GSK is working to take this interaction beyond the clinic, engaging medical education as the tool to build trust and re-engage with the consumer on a simultaneously larger and more intimate scale than ever before.

“In the past, sales reps could not answer doctors' questions and that was where the line of enquiry stopped. Now, if HCPs want to get into a bit more depth or have questions around adverse events or what's coming up in the pipeline, they feel they have someone they can talk to,” De Jong explains.

“It doesn't actually change much,” he admits, “but from a perception perspective it has a high impact. What we're seeing now is a really good response from HCPs: they are feeling valued.

“The mindset of HCPs is changing - more quickly in some European countries than in others - where they want to work with pharma, provided they can still be good healthcare professionals and serve and support their patients.

“This will really help us to better serve HCPs in the long term.”

A changing mindset
Adaptation of data, promotional activities and commercial practices have not just started to shift the HCPs' mindset but also begun to change pharma's approach to the consumer. By working to accommodate and anticipate the individual, the healthcare industry as a whole can expect greater alignment of expectations, with both parties reaping the reward of greater tailored engagement and insight.

Article by
Rebecca Clifford

is PMGroup's junior reporter

24th February 2017

From: Research

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